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by Mark Jardine 3 May 2021 21:30 BST
A Hipgnosis image created for Nick Mason's 1981 album 'Ficticious Sports' © Hipgnosis

This time 40 years ago the drummer Nick Mason released an album called Fictitious Sports. As with his band Pink Floyd (who released a few slightly more well-known albums), Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis were called upon for the album art, creating the image you see above, which seemed apt as an intro for this editorial.

When the International Olympic Committee came to World Sailing to say they had concerns with the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, asking for an alternative to be proposed, they knew they may be forced into to hammering a square peg in a round hole.

26 submissions were made, which each had to be considered and checked to see whether they adhered to the IOC's criteria framework. In the end just three of the submissions were approved by the World Sailing Board to be discussed by the Events and Equipment Committees on May 10th & 11th, with World Sailing's Council discussing and voting on the alternative on May 14th, ahead of the IOC's May 26th deadline.

The three approved event proposals are Individual Men's and Women's Formula Kite, Individual Men's and Women's 470, and Mixed Team Racing in ILCA 6s.

The Kiteboarding and 470 proposals could be regarded as 'safe' submissions, especially with the Men's and Women's 470 being events at Tokyo 2020. With just three years until the Paris Olympics, this would provide continuity. Kiteboarding brings the appeal to Generation Z and Alpha (yes, that's the term for those born from the early 2010s) who the IOC is desperate to court.

The team racing idea has come up in social media discussion, but would 2-on-2 mixed teams in ILCA 6s be any good? Team racing has nearly always been held in boats with two (or more) crew and, to my knowledge, never been held in ILCA 6s with mixed teams. To my mind the boat just isn't suited to team racing and this is the cobbled-together option. I love the idea of team racing bringing together other members of a nation's sailing team, but this would only realistically be viable for teams who field a full roster of sailors. The submission may have complied with the IOC's criteria, but its contrived nature leaves me thinking of that fictitious sports imagery.

But wait... what of the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat? The IOC only said they wanted alternatives in case the keelboat event wasn't approved. How about if the concerns the IOC had were addressed?

This is exactly what the Oceanic and Offshore Committee are recommending to World Sailing, reducing the 'Field of Play' from 24,000 square miles to just 400 square miles, while also keeping the entire fleet within range of the French mobile networks. Could this be enough to persuade the IOC that the offshore keelboat event is feasible?

Sailing has so many facets and it would be great to see offshore keelboats represented. As we have discussed at length before, doublehanded keelboat sailing is a massive growth area of the sport. Also it would seem that World Sailing can take a two-pronged approach to this: offer the alternative while at the same time addressing the issues IOC had with the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat.

As Sail-World.com's Australian editor John Curnow said when we chatted on Monday:

"Sailing is represented by many wide and diverse classes or disciplines. Quite possibly the largest, and certainly one of the easiest ways to get into it, is via keelboats. Just look at all the sticks in marinas and clubs. So, if there is even the faintest of embers, or thinnest of threads that the Mixed Offshore event can get up, then we need it to be embraced for us sailors, and all those who might want to try being wet, windswept and tired, but with one hell of enduring smile.

"Then there is the media equation. You may not be into reality TV but loads and loads of audiences the world over most certainly are. So, if three days and two nights is not sailing's version of Big Brother, then I am not sure what the IOC would be looking for in terms of audience retention. So, c'mon IOC, look deeply into what is being offered here, and all the boxes the Mixed Offshore event ticks from supplied, genuine One Design equipment, to a great leveller, whether you're considered a sailing nation or a rank outsider."

I'm no fan of Big Brother, or any other reality TV for that matter, but I do know just how hooked we all were to the Vendée Globe tracker and the updates from each of the skippers. With the IOC embracing virtual sports, we could all race the Olympians at home on Virtual Regatta. The virtual Vendée attracted just shy of a million competitors from 150 different countries. Let's not forget that this is an event that takes place over 80 days and absorbs a huge amount of time. An offshore event which was compressed into, say, three days could get millions hooked first into virtual sailing and then converted into the real version.

One Design keelboats, provided to the event by one of the big manufacturers, together with rig tension set exactly the same on each boat, have the potential to provide a true level playing field and highlight another facet of sailing to the world - and a whole new way for non-sailors and sailors alike to engage in the action.

It will be interesting to see what decision the IOC come to when World Sailing put forward their submissions, but let's hope we don't see the equivalent of cuboid tennis balls and spherical dice in sailing.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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